Part 50: Sinnoh League Rivalslet's talk about
The Many Rivals of Ash
You know whats weird? Despite going we're rivals now [shot reverse shot of them staring intensely] a lot, Ash rarely gets season-long rivals. Even Gary showed up so infrequently across Kanto & Johto he may as well not count. Which always leads to suddenly introducing a bunch of people at the league to fight and no one Ash has actually met.
Not so in Sinnoh! Here Ash doesnt just get some league rivals, he gets four of them that he meets and interacts with throughout the show.
This goober started out as a seeming random character of the day not sure if he wants to do contests or gym battles. But then he started showing up again and again and wound up being in both the Grand Festival AND the Pokemon League. S-surprise?
He sing-speaks, has a cute Mew harp and gets Zoey to almost tear his head off for daring to compete in both because its wishywashy (she gets over it). His battle style is more elegant than anything else, with a trend towards grass and performance pokemon (like Kricketune, Roserade, Lopunny) and also an Armaldo. Honestly despite his shtick .he doesnt really stand out at all. He shows up, we get a small update on him, maybe see a performance and thats that. Despite showing up more than the other league rival, hes probably the weakest and least memorable of Ashs rivals. Sadly this is kind of the standard used in Unova, too.... But hey Ash got to use his new Quilava against him, so that was cool.
Now Conway, theres a memorable character. You remember the super nerd type character class? This is basically that. Hes sneaky, smart and does more advance plays and such. Were first introduced to him in the end of the first year of the DP season, as a competitor at a smaller, tag team tournament where he teams up with Dawn and almost wins with her. Then he got brought back for the end of year 2s 4 part summer camp arc which had a lot of gags about him being kind of a creepy guy who gets a little cocky. Honestly hes great and not as big a creeper as youd think, though, so it was a nice surprise when he got brought back as one of Ashs matches in the league.
His specialty is basically using game strategies! Liberal usage of protect, he has a Trick Room team, he has a Shuckle that uses Power Trick. You virtually never see things like this in the anime so it was a real treat to see Ash deal with it in the league. Id suggest watching his match, its fun to see the slow Pokemon zoom around.
Now here was a pleasant surprise! The anime ignores Rivals most of the time. We had Gary and thats about it. Silver never showed up (beyond a cameo in a side episode), Wally never showed up, Brendon only had some movie cameos...but then suddenly Barry showed up about half way through the series and hes spot-on. Hes still childhood friends with Dawn, hes hyperactive, hes fining people and also hes competent in battle. One of my favorite gags is how his Empoleon is just constantly exasperated from dealing with Barrys .Barry-ness.
Since Barry grew up with Dawn we also get a few extra details: hes one of the people who knows the horrible origins of Dawns embarrassing nickname and the gang returns to Twinleaf for a few episodes letting us see Barry with his dad, Palmer, some backstory on how Barry loved catching bugs and how his Heracross was one of his first Pokemon and then he jammed out on a festival drum. Barry owns, Sinnoh owns.
In the anime he idolizes Paul which gets under Ashs skin leading to a battle, among other arguments. Barry barely gives him the time of day until Ash beats Byron and they reconcile during the Iron Island arc. Hes never shown to believe some of Pauls worse traits, but you can see how it relates to Barrys team variety and battle strength.
Quick aside, but when Barry shows off his badges we see an anime staple: anime-exclusive badges we dont see the context to. I always really liked when the anime does this,, because it makes the regions feel bigger. Like of course thered be more than 8 gyms scattered around, right? Itd be nice to see them for kicks one day, though.
Anyway, Ash never fights Barry at the League, though. Paul does, which is meant to be a humbling experience for Barry but even Paul warms up to him by the end. You know, in the only way Paul can do so.
Which leads us to
You cant talk about rivals without talking about Paul. Paul is THE rival for Ash. He shows up at the start of the series and he never stops showing up and confronting Ash because they have completely different ideologies. I called Conway as using game strategies but Paul is the closest to the actual mindset of a competitive player. One of his first scenes is catching a bunch of Starly and releasing the weaker ones. If a Pokemon doesnt perform adequately he releases or trades it away. He holds his Pokemon to an extreme regard and was downright abusive to his Chimchar because it was too spoiled, useless, and refused to access its real power, ultimately ending in its release and subsequent ownership to Ash.
Hes also not all-talk. While he does get owned its usually by the crème of the crop like Cynthia or Brandon, he is shown to be extremely competent, working around the opponents strategies and having a large assortment of strong Pokemon to have at any situation. Hes even competed in three other regional leagues, though he didnt win them. One of the biggest moments in the series is he & Ash stop having increasingly vocal arguments and instead have a full 2-part 6 on 6 battle that ends in Ashs total defeat.
All said its the best rivalry in the series. Its the only one they really build upon since he meets up so much, they have a distinct difference in everything they do, they use Chimchars development to go alongside it and you get to learn a lot about him. Hes competed in 3 other regions before this, his Torterra was his starter Pokemon, he has a brother who retired and whose loss against Brandon was part of the reason hes so bitter today. So when Ash & Paul finally face off in the Top 8 match it feels earned and worth the time it took to get there and complete. Id really suggest watching the match, its pretty good.
A fun detail with that match is while Ash, who up to now has been using not just his Sinnoh team but his reserves, makes a point to use his Sinnoh team .Paul doesnt. He uses a mix of new Pokemon and a few returning ones, with the only one Ash had fought before being his Electivire. He wasnt going to give Ash any sort of advantage while Ash is sentimental to the end.
Its a shame, though, because it means Ash never got his revenge against the real star of Pauls team. Its not his starter, Torterra and its not the semi-starter Electivire, its this asshole.
This damn Ursaring was caught during a seeming filler and wound up being one of Pauls absolute monsters. It takes a million hits and barely shows it, it tore through 3 members of Ashs team before, almost took down 4, against Barry it didnt even get knocked out despite going against a Hitmonlee and a Focus Blast Emploeon, and in general its just a dick. Absolutely ridiculous.
Paul doesnt stick around to see Ashs final match, but they seemed to finally reconcile, recognizing each others strengths...but it's Paul so he's still kind of a jerk and keeps it to a smirk and see ya.
Why do people leave these things all the time? Where are you going?? You have no other appointments! Youre 10 and you spent like a year getting here at least see the championship. At least Barry stuck around!